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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Studying the Nuances of Cocktails in DC

Cocktail Cartoon

Cocktail Cartoon by Adam Bernbach.

Most people who order a cocktail just by its name might not realize they’re being pretty vague. “I’ll have a Manhattan,” we’ll say, then go back to our conversation, leaving the nuances of each drink up to the person behind the bar. Bourbon? Rye? Dolin vermouth? Angostura bitters? That’s handing over a lot of decision-making power to the bartender. At the spectacular cocktail spot Proof, in Washington, DC, bar manager Adam Bernbach is helping guests discover exactly how different a drink can be, depending on the answers to these sorts of questions.

“There’s a certain handwriting to cocktails,” Bernbach says. “Your handwriting is slanted in a certain direction, your L’s curl a little more than somebody else’s, your P’s are a little straighter than others. In the same way, when you’re making a daiquiri, maybe you choose to use a South American rum and you might add a touch more lime juice because your preference is for something a little bit more tart.”

This month, Bernbach is exploring this mixology philosophy during his weekly Remastered Editions. For each Sunday (aside from the 20th, because of Inauguration Day insanity) he’s selected a classic cocktail and is presenting it using four different recipes. Last week, he did a study of the Manhattan. The fan favorites that night were the ones made with Eagle Rare bourbon, Cocchi vermouth and Angostura bitters; and another with Templeton rye, Carpano Antica and a combination of Angostura and Regan’s Orange bitters. On Sunday, January 13, daiquiris are in the spotlight. The varying styles of rum—Spanish, English, rhum agricole from the French West Indies—and the vast assortments of sweeteners that can be used in the classic, from Demerara syrup to simple syrup to plain sugar, give Bernbach a lot of flexibility. “I think the sweet, herb, spice quality of the rhum agricole will be very visible to guests. And I think the funkiness of the Jamaican Blackwell rum will be really obvious.”

To drive home this idea of the personalized nature of these cocktails, Bernbach has handwritten each of the menus and even made a little drawing (above) for each week. For the final installment of Remastered Editions, Bernbach will tackle the whiskey sour—including one drink that involves a whole egg yolk and that intriguingly tastes like, in Bernbach’s words, “lemony nut cake.” Perhaps it’s time to book a seat on the Acela, destination: Washington, DC.

Related: 50 Best Bars in America

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

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